|OUR HEROES:||Tira Wolfsdaughter||Hank Woodman||Haiku Odsdottir||Gilead||Persia|
|Interlude: The fate of Stone Roost
This begins at the end of adventure 32: Stone Roost.
Persia is reunited with Mranda. The two embrace gratefully. Soon afterwards there is a awkward period. Persia of course wishes to know why her mother abandoned her with no warning or explanation. Mranda finds the matter difficult to speak of. The story comes out in bits and pieces over the course of several days.
During those days, Persia learns the duties of a servant of the bat folk. They are surprisingly light. Stone Roost is primarily a nursery of the tribe. The cats are expected to perform domestic tasks of housekeeping. The bats are undemanding taskmasters, and there are plenty of opportunities for the two to talk.
Mranda reveals that she was forced to leave the city very quickly. She had defended herself from the insults and effronteries of someone she perceived to be a drunken lout, possibly the son of a wealthy merchant. In the heat of the moment, she killed the man, unintentionally, she assures her daughter. To Mranda's horror, she learned that the man was related to someone very, very highly placed in the city. This person was so powerful and important , that she knew if she were identified, she would certainly be killed, either executed by the courts or assassinated by the surviving relative. There was no way she could remain in the city. She could not even go to her daughter without fear of connecting her to the "crime". She appealed to Ningan. The Archon felt that the safest avenue was exile, and offered her a position on the departing scout team of Hadrian's. Mranda realized that not even the clemency of the Archon could protect her from vengeance, so she agreed. She will not reveal the name of her hunter, for fear it could be read in Persia's mind and lead to her death.
Persia relates her adventures of the last few years. Mranda is amazed by the discovery of Nemo's Deep and the other tales, but is shocked to the core by the encounters with Iron John. She warns Persia to stay away from him at all costs. Persia presses her until Mranda reveals that it was Iron John who set the fire that destroyed the Beast Quarter on the Night of Small Fires, presumably by order of Kanukka. She fought the iron man and lost, barely escaping with her life. Afterward, she realized she had no proof. Although she could theoretically go to the authorities and request her psyche to be read, she did not dare. She had been too long involved with the underground movement to protect beasts from the cruel policies of the Red Archon. To have her psyche read would be a death sentence. She has carried the secret to this day.
Persia reveals what she has learned of the duplicate of Iron John, the Saginaw servant named Viginti. Apparently there are many more of the iron killer. Mranda had wondered why they had seen Iron John below and is intrigued to learn the reason for the mistake.
They are more forcefully reminded of the similarities of the two over a week later. The bats in the upper floors begin screaming in terror. Apparently Viginti has come up out of the water and is climbing the tower. He is even now entering the lookout window on the top floor and announcing his intent to murder all within the tower. The bats promise freedom immediately to the two if they will defend them from this threat.
Mranda and Persia agree readily enough, after all, their lives are threatened as well. They are armed and go to meet the foe, while the bats struggle to empty the nursery through the secret passage.
Persia attempt to parley with the iron killer, but it is like trying to negotiate with a stone. The assassin indicates that the Saginaw have desired the tower cleared, and he has been sent to do it. Mranda tries to get Persia to break off, but the battle has been joined. Each of the cats pleads for the other to flee, but neither will abandon their kin to the killer. Finally, Persia receives a seemingly mortal wound and is dropped.
All goes black. For Mranda's subsequent actions and Persia's fate, go here.
ilead decides that they need more intelligence on the actions of the Saginaw and the Trontans. Tira and Slik heard distant sounds of combat, but not a full scale battle. Were these scouts clashing in the wilderness or something more. Farralon is picked to fly the Raven because he can do so and because his spirit sight will allow a nighttime reconnaissance. Gilead will accompany for his tactical assessment. Hank watches them go with some misgivings, but his skills are more needed to forge the circlet.
At first all goes well. When they get within sight of the bridge fort, they see that it is on fire. Gilead is surprised, since Farallon assures him that the Trontans are still arranged on the south side of the river. Arrows should not reach that far, especially flaming ones. However, though the fort is in flames, it is the Trontans who are getting the worst of the battle. They have failed to take the upper bridge and some nasty predator, perhaps a species of thunder beast is wreaking havoc among their encampments. While they are dealing with this, they are enduring aerial bombardment. The Saginaw have flying lizards piloted by what Farallon reports are children. These lizard-riders are throwing pots of flammable liquid down into the mass of disorganized Trontans below.
At the sight of the fliers, Gilead orders Farallon to pull back, but it is almost too late. They were spotted first and endure a quick fusillade of crossbow bolts before outdistancing the slower mounts. Unfortunately, the damage is done. It is only thanks to Farallon's handling of the Raven that they touch down without injury. The Raven is no longer skyworthy and it takes them the rest of the night to walk it back to camp.
It is more important than ever to find out the outcome of the battle. Is the camp safe? Will Persia and Mranda be safe in the tower of Stone Roost? Gilead sets out with two soldiers and Exon Ironhand to do some foot scouting. They sneak very close to the Saginaw camp, but are spotted and forced to separate. Gilead and one of the soldiers cut around the Saginaw to the top of the falls. Here they observe that the upper bridge is firmly in Saginaw control. The soldiers are relaxed, indicating a probably routing or destruction of the Trontans. While they examine this, they see a cloud of bats erupt from Stone Roost.
Soon all attention is focussed on the tower. Examining closer, Gilead spots with his spyglass a figure climbing slowly and painfully down the rough outside. It is a feline carrying something large enough to be a body. Her exact identity is impossible to determine given the darkness and mist. She reaches the point where the tower begins to recede back toward the falls and stops. She can go no further. It is obvious she is in distress. Finally, she can cling no longer and falls to the pounding waters below. Gilead hastily strips of his armor and runs down to the foot, telling the soldier to rendezvous with him down river.
The water is dark and cold. It is swirling and turbulent. For many minutes Gilead despairs of finding anything. Then he sees a body struggling in the water. It is Mranda and she is wounded. He helps her to shore. After he identifies himself, the cat-beast urges him to find Persia, who is already unconscious and wounded. It seems a fruitless and dangerous search. Already shouts are heard from the Saginaw encampment and Gilead is suddenly attacked a fierce swimming animal. The creature seems all teeth and claws, and he realizes with horror that this must be one of the thunder beasts which routed the Trontan forces. It is a difficult battle and he receives a vicious wound from the thing's jaws before stabbing it with his sword. Whether he killed it or ran it off is unknown, but he is no longer bothered by it and soon afterward find Persia's body, floating face up in the river. He cannot tell if she is alive or dead but pulls her to shore.
Though he is thoroughly exhausted, they cannot wait. The Saginaw have surely set scouts. They painfully limp to the cover of the trees and work their way downstream. Mranda collapses, but begs Gilead to take her to help. Gilead eventually finds a crossing point and collapses upon the far bank, wasted. He is soon discovered by the soldier he lost back at the beginning of the scouting run. The soldier takes Persia's body back to camp while Gilead recovers.
Once at camp, Farallon calls upon all his reserves of power and training as a healer. At first he believes the case to be hopeless. Then he detects the barest flicker of life. It is hours after Gilead and Mranda rejoin the camp that Farallon, exhausted but satisfied, announces that Persia will live. She will need to rest for some time before travelling. Nevertheless, Gilead decides that they must be further from the Saginaw. The company travels easily for a day or two until they find a very defensible and hidden ruin to camp in. Here they rest while all are slowly healed.
It is ten days until that Farallon announces that they are all ready to move. As they gather to move on, Hadrian calls Gilead to him and announces in careful tones, that he and Mranda will not be returning to Tallon. With a controlled voice he explains to his astonished son that Mranda is wanted by powerful people in Tallon. He also eventually admits that he has emotional ties to Mranda that will not allow him to abandon her. Gilead presses him until he admits, again delicately, that he has a bond of love that he cannot deny. Such unions are not well-received in the social circles of Tallon, and neither he nor Mranda wish to live a life of watchful apprehension. He further announces their intention to explore the ruins of the continent for more of the secrets of the Demon Kings. Gilead does not understand this, nor does he understand why Hadrian makes no mention his mother, Hadrian's deceased wife. The parting is difficult and strained. Gilead storms off in anger.
Mranda approaches Persia and says basically the same things. Beasts have a better opinion of such relationships, so there is little of the acrimony in their parting. However there is much sadness. Persia urges Mranda to return, but the elder cat refuses and bids her daughter to remember her two warnings. Firstly, the events that led her to leave, and second the awful truth of the Night of Small Fires in the Beast Quarter.
Before leaving Hadrian speaks with Tira. He tells her that since she can read psyches, he feels that he can speak plainly with her. There is less effort in baring his soul to one who can already see his emotions. He tells her to look after Gilead; that the young man will need her strength. He also confesses that he could not bring himself to speak of his dead wife to his son. There is so much of her in Gilead that it felt like a betrayal to her memory to discuss his feeling for another in front of him. He says that he would have broken down if he had tried. Rightly or wrongly done, he has made his good-bye.
Hadrian and Mranda walk off to the north and are eventually swallowed by distance.